Sunday, August 3, 2014

Root: Born to Run



(Photo Credit: Eli Duke on Tumblr)

"That was the year my hometown in Pennsylvania got a heat flash for Christmas. On New Year's Day, I pulled on shorts and a thermal top for a five-mile trail run, just an easy leg-stretcher on a rest day. I rambled through the woods for half an hour, then cut through a field of winter hay and headed for home. The warm sun and the aroma of sun-baked grass were so luxurious, I kept slowing down, dragging out that last half mile as long as I could.

When I got within one hundred yards of my house, I stopped, shucked my thermal shirt, and turned back for one last lap through the hay. I finished that one and started another, tossing my T-shirt aside as well. By lap four, my socks and running shoes were on the pile, my bare feet cushioned by dry grass and warm dirt. By lap six, I was fingering my waistband, but decided to keep the shorts out of consideration for my eighty-two-year-old neighbor. I'd finally recovered that feeling I'd had during my run with Caballo- the easy, light, smooth, fast sensation that I could outrun the sun and still be going by morning.

Like Caballo, the Tarahumara secret had begun working for me before I even understood it. Because I was eating lighter and hadn't been laid up once by injury, I was able to run more; because I was running more, I was sleeping great, feeling relaxed, and watching my resting heart rate drop. My personality even changed: The grouchiness and temper I'd considered part of my Irish-Italian DNA had ebbed so much that my wife remarked, "Hey, if this comes from ultrarunning, I'll tie your shoes for you." I knew aerobic exercise was a powerful antidepressant, but I hadn't realized it could be so profoundly mood stabilizing and-- I hate to use the word-- meditative. If you don't have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain't getting them.

I kept waiting for the old ghosts of the past to come roaring out-- the screaming Achilles, the ripped hamstring, the plantar fasciitis. I started carrying a cell phone on the longer runs, convinced that any day now, I'd end up a limping mess by the side of the road. Whenever I felt a twinge, I ran through my diagnostics:

Back straight? Check.

Knees bent and driving forward? Check.

Heels flicking back? ... There's your problem. Once I made the adjustment, the hot spot always eased and disappeared. By the time Eric bumped me up to five-hour runs in the last month before the race, ghosts and cell phones were forgotten.

For the first time in my life, I was looking forward to superlong runs not with dread, but anticipation. How had Barefoot Ted put it? Like fish slipping back into water. Exactly.

I felt like I was born to run."

From Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, (Vintage Books).


(Photo Credit: Alex on Tumblr)